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Joemar Surmion: A New Breed of Farmer-Entrepreneur

Conventionally, a farmer is seen solely as a producer of his own products and seldom as a businessman. When the time comes to harvest his produce, he cannot demand a good price but is left at the whims of the traders. Before his products will reach at the consumers, it has already passed several hands of middle-men, handlers and traders who had taken the much larger piece of income without even sweating. And the farmer is left again to the hands of usurers for a loan to start planting again. This is the never-ending cycle of farming in the country that always eleave the farmers at the loosing side.

This time, Joemar Surmion wants to change the pitiful farce of farming. “Farming should be viewed as a business enterprise and not just merely production”, says the young Ilongo businessman from Koronadal City who has a passion in farming.  Toto Joemar, as he is fondly called by his friends is a maverick who likes to try everything that challenges his skills and wits. He is a karate black-belter who also loves motor biking and mountain climbing. Such extreme hobbies are no doubt, the traits of an adventurer who always wants to push himself to the limits. He is a graduate of Commerce and has earned units in Masters of Business Administration. Joemar used to work in a bank and in an insurance company for quite some time before he took a glimpse in the farming parlance. Why he gets into farming is something that challenged his mind.

When I was still working in the cooperative bank before, I always had a chance to meet with farmers, since they are mostly our clients”, recalls Joemar. His work allowed him to peek at the real problems of our farmers- why farmers are always at a loss where they are supposed to be the master of the farming business. This question bogged him because his work demands him to enable these farmers so they can pay their loans and, in return the bank an earn profit.

To get the “feel” of the farmers’ plight, Joemar himself began to venture in farming while still working the bank. He bought a piece of land at Libas, Tantangan, South Cotabato in 1990 to start his farming. “Everyday before I go to office, I woke up early in the morning to go to the farm and do some menial work. By the end of office hours, again I immediately went back to the farm to continue my work. During weekends, I sent all my family members to the farm so they can help me in my activities. That’s how I started it all.”, Joemar relates with much amusement. After he had already established the farm, Joemar decided to quit his juicy job and focus in farming, though he considered it as tough decision.

Before, the land he bought was so barren that even a single plant can’t survive. It was a bit rolling, with clayey soil. The only advantage it has is the spring that provides a free source of water. Though the farmer who sold his land saw it unproductive, Joemar seen it otherwise. He turned the limitations into advantage by merely using what he called “auto-suggestion” – which means training your mind to focus on something you wish to happen and act on it with great intense. Deep in his mind, he was creating a picture of a farm land, rich in bounty, where many people come for a visit to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Through patience and hard work, he was able to develop his farm. He get his ideas from trainings and observations of model areas in different areas. “The trainings I attended from both the private and government agencies, particularly in the Agricultural Training Institute had really helped me to stir my interest in farming”. He applied the technologies he got from his several trainings in aquaculture, livestock and poultry raising, mango production and others in the farm. He planted mangoes on the sloping areas, made rice terraces on the other, and create a fishpond for tilapia and hito. He utilized the spring water to provide water to his area through gravitational irrigation, where he impounds the water from the spring and put pipes directly to the fishponds, rice areas, and even to his house. He utilized everything from his farm, like converting rice straws into organic fertilizer, utilizing animal manure to fertilize his fruit trees and others. These experiences allowed him to save costs from farm inputs.
Now that the farm is already established, the next question is how he is going to make money from his farm. The usual experience of farmers is to sell their products to the middlemen who will eventually buy it at a very low price.   Joemar wanted to switch the condition by shortcutting the flow.   “I converted my area not as a point of production but as a point of marketing. In this way, I get rid of the middle-men”, says Joemar. He created a direct market of his produce right in his farm. With this he meant of making his area as an agro-tourism spot- where people can enjoy and relax in the nature’s comfort. In deed, such is the realization of his dream.
Now, few years later, his five-hectare farm in Barangay Libas, Tantanagan is already known as Surmion’s Game Fishing Farm. His place became one of the recreational spots in the province. This once sleepy barangay has made a spot in the map of South Cotabato because of Joemar’s farm. His area has been frequented by people, mostly professionals, and big time businessmen who look for a comfortable and relaxing place with a natural ambiance, outside their complex nature of work. There are even foreigners who come and visit his farm.
 “In our farm, our clients pay not only for the food they eat, which are mostly produced in the farm. But what they really like most is the pleasure they got from experiencing the beauty of nature- like riding a raft, fishing, relaxing at a swing, riding a karosa, go biking around the mango groove or simply lying in the hut.”, says Joemar. What is interesting to note is that I was able to add value in my farm by creating another business enterprise!”, Joemar enthuses.
Out of his business, he was able to generate jobs for his community. He is utilizing twelve to fifteen workers in the farm, ranging from the caretakers, laborers, carpenters, kitchen crew and the like. Aside from that, he was able to help provide some street lights in the barangay.
He also accepts field trips to his farm from students, and farmers and share his technologies applied in the farm. In his spare time, Joemar is also acting as resource person for cooperatives, integrated farming, entrepreneurship, and the like. He loves to share his experiences to other people, especially to farmers, businessmen, and everybody who wants to venture in farming. “With my experience, I want them to know that there is really money in farming”, Jomar utters with a smile.
At present, Joemar shares his blessings with his family. He finds support and inspiration from his loving wife, Jennifer, and their